Right from the beginning, I need to let all of you know that I am not a quilt/quilting expert. This blog developed because I spoke with the folks at AnnTheGran about something else and out came the idea of my writing a blog. I ask you all to take or leave what I have to say about quilting and then find your own way and style. The things I say here are my own opinion from my experience, not necessarily "Quilt Law". The quilt police* are not out to get you. If you make a mistake, learn from it and go on.
I plan to talk a little about quilting tools, but right now, I also want to tell you to think for a little while before you jump into quilting. We all know that ME is not an inexpensive avocation. You will find the same thing true of quilting. I’ve been quilting seriously for nearly twenty years, off and on my entire adult life. My investment in tools and fabric, etc. is not small. I’ve bought things that didn’t work out and things that are so great I wouldn’t want to live without them (you notice here I didn't say couldn't, I probably could, I just don't want to). That said, be sure you want to quilt before you jump into it (unless your funds are unlimited)
That leads to telling you about a sewing group I was in. I was the only one in the group who did not own an embroidery machine. I met several of these ladies when they joined my quilt guild. They were all experienced at all kinds of sewing and ME. They decided to try quilting. They were in the quilt guild for some time, and they became frustrated or disinterested with quilting. It was my observation that they did not have a good basic understanding of quilt construction. At that time, the guild was not teaching basic quilting techniques. I was fortunate enough to start the guild when basic instructions were being given. My advice to anyone who wants to learn quilting is to find a quilt guild or basic quilting class. Buy only the basic tools to begin with. Make the basic quilt as the class is taught. Learn all you can. Invest slowly in the beginning, then decide whether you want to continue.
My stash has grown over the years to the point that I have my doubts that I will make a dent in it any time soon. My husband recently finished these shelves to house the fabrics I’ve collected. I emptied more than a dozen plastic bins that stored my stash while we built our house. I have fabrics for at least four or five complete quilts, plus many more. The picture here is the product of my many trips to quilt shops from the Canadian Rockies, the southwest US, to New England and as far south as Florida.
I know that some ME’s have bought machines for embroidery only, even though they had never sewn before. In that case, I’m guessing that you would need to buy another machine for quilting. That is something else to think about. Since I was experienced at sewing before I came to ME, I decided to have a machine that does both. My first love will always be quilting, I need a machine that would do both things since my investment in ME is secondary.
There are several reasons I decided to do this blog. One, is because Greg (beamishboy) asked me to do it. He’s been very supportive and helpful. Another is because I’d like to be able to help ATG expand to include quilting and quilting products. Living in rural Alabama, I depend on mail order shopping for things I cannot find locally. I’m always looking for good, reliable web sites that offer the quality products I’m looking for. The last and definitely not least is probably selfish. This is a personal challenge for me. I’ve learned more in the past month since I came across AnnTheGran than I had learned in the past ten to fifteen years. I’ve always been pretty open to sharing the things I love. But putting it on paper challenges me to think and then put my words on paper and then to computer and to you.
The quilt shown here is one that I made soon after I started quilting. It was for my second grand daughter, at her birth. It's not necessarily a baby quilt. But it is still in good condition and she can later use it as a wall hanging. It is a tough pattern for a beginner. Please be smarter than I was at the time and start out with an easier project. I’ve always loved this quilt and wish that I could repeat it with the exact fabrics in a bed size quilt. Maybe I’ll go for a substitute some day.
Quilting is a whole lot more than making a bed cover. Quilting is an expression of your love of fabrics and color. The fabrics are a kaleidoscope of the pictures in the minds of designers who love color, nature, people, flowers, objects, and so many other things. The quilt patterns, tell stories of designers' lives and experiences. The names of the patterns and blocks come from their imagination and tradition. Churn dash, evokes the farm wife as she makes butter. Log cabin, a little house in the woods. Pinwheel, a child’s toy. Fox and Geese, Flying Geese, LeMoyne Star, Bears Paw - just a few of the hundreds of blocks.
The tools to make blocks are just as varied as the names of blocks and quilts. Fortunately for anyone who might decide to make the transition from one craft to another, many of the tools are the same or very similar. These tools could be called crossover tools to be used by both Quilters and ME’s. Scissors, needles, pins, threads, pencils, pens, fabric markers, rulers, seam rippers are all tools that both Quilters and ME’s need in their sewing box. These tools are used more by quilters , but some could also cross over to ME. Rotary Cutters, blades, and mats, specialized rulers, templates, batting, graph paper, freezer paper, quilting hoops or frames, thimble, tracing paper, other, more specialized tools.
Scissors: There are so many kinds of scissors that it is hard to put them in one category or another. A good quality, well sharpened, 8" dressmaker’s fabric shears are a necessity, utility scissors for cutting pager or sheet plastic for templates, embroidery scissors or small scissors sharp for clipping threads.
Thimble: A thimble is a necessity for hand quilters to help push the needle and thread through the fabric. Choose one that fits snugly, not tightly, on the middle finger of your sewing hand. Thimbles like many other tools are personal preference. They come in many shapes and sizes, meeting the need of the wearer. Thimbles can be hard to get used to, but they are a great help. Using a thimble equals less sore, and stuck fingers. If you stick to quilting, or other hand sewing, treat yourself to a silver or gold thimble. I have many thimbles, as I’m a thimble collector, but most of them are only for show and aren’t useful at all. Another thing about thimbles, some people can't get used to using them, others can. Your fingers will be happier in the long run if you can get used to using one. Here's another area where you can find your won way. Use one if you can, don't if you can't
Needles: Hand sewing needles come in a wide variety of types and styles. Sharps are general sewing needles used for applique and hand piecing. Betweens are used for quilting, they are shorter and stronger, made for the specific task of stitching the layers of quilts together. Both types of needles come in varying sizes. They are mostly chosen by preference. I use quite small ones, usually size ten or eleven, in both types.
Sewing machine needles: Use machine needles according to the machine manufacturer’s recommendation, and the kind of material you are using. Choose them carefully and your machine will love you for it. (give your sewing machine a friendly name and "she" will love you more when you talk kindly to her and use her name.)
Pins and pincushion: There are many types of these as well. I use long, thin, sharp pins with glass heads for most types of my sewing and quilting. I also use tiny, short, glass head pins for applique, they are about 3/4 inch long. (Easy to lose and hard to find.) This is where a sewing magnet comes in very handy. I have one that has a bright colored plastic handle that is easy to hold when fishing those little "buggers" out of the chair cushions and carpet. (your husband, boyfriend, kids and neighbors will love you for that when they don't step or sit on your pins and needles).
Be careful with pins and needles! Years ago, I bought an old sewing machine cabinet at the Salvation Army thrift store. While my husband was refinishing it, he knelt on the floor and right on a sewing machine needle.Half was embedded in his knee. Enter my Handy-Dandy needle-nose pliers...I pulled that thing right out of his knee. (Probably should have had a tetanus shot.)
Threads: This is an area where Quilters and ME’s get quite different. Most experienced quilters opt for 100% cotton thread throughout their quilt construction. Polyester thread is much stronger than cotton. Quilters feel that polyester threads can cut through the fibers of the fabric and eventually cause the seams of the patchwork to separate. It’s very difficult to mend a seam where the fabric is cut by the thread at the seam. Cotton threads come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. The two basic ones, regular sewing weight thread, used for either hand or machine piecing. The other is a heavier, stiffer thread that is sometimes waxed slightly for hand quilting. This thread is usually stiffer, to help the thread from twisting during quilting.
Pencils, pens and fabric markers: Quilters need pencils and pens to plan their quilt designs, trace patterns, etc. There are pencils that are designed to wash out when the piecing and quilting is finished, but they are varied and need to be chosen carefully. Try them out on different kinds of fabrics and colors for washability and color fastness. Fabric markers can be used for either Quilting or ME. Some are meant to be used in construction, some are used to permanently color fabric during the design process. Read the label and choose carefully. Quilters have varying opinions of the blue or purple, felt tip markers. Some use them carefully, using cold water to wash the marks out of the fabric. Others feel that the chemicals in the ink may damage the fibers in time, so they don't use them at all. Don’t iron these disappearing ink markers. Ironing will set the ink and make it permanent. White or colored chalk pencils are used to mark the quilt for hand quilting.
Rulers traditional, and specialized: Quilters need at least a few basic rulers. A 2" X 12" or a 2" X 18" clear plastic ruler, marked in grids with 8th inch markings for drawing patterns and adding seam allowances. Rotary cutting requires a larger, 6" X 24" clear plastic ruler marked in grids with 8th inch markings. These rulers usually have diagonal lines used for making angled cuts. A square 12" x 12" is good to square-up* the quilt blocks before final assembly.
Rotary Cutter: ROTARY CUTTERS ARE DANGEROUS! (I’ll talk more about them in a future blog.) This is "cool tool" developed by a quilter, for quilters. It has totally changed the art and craft of quilting. Before rotary cutters, quilters used templates, pencils, rulers, sandpaper and scissors to accomplish the same thing that a rotary cutter and mat does for us now in a fraction of the time. The rotary cutter "cuts" the time it takes to get ready to piece quilts by so many increments, that I couldn’t even try to count. I could say that the rotary cutter is revolutionary to the art of quilting. It has since been adapted to a whole lot of other things, including ME.
Rotary cutting mats:These mats, like rotary cutters, are also made by many manufacturers. Study the brands and buy a good quality mat. They are self healing and they last a long time. I’m still using the first ones I bought. They come in sizes from 5" x 7" up to full cutting table size. I recommend a medium size mat, about 18" x 24" to begin, since it can be easily taken to class. A larger one can be purchased later if the need arises.
Templates:Templates are sometimes used for individual blocks such as those in sampler quilts*. Purchase them only as needed. You can end up with a lot of templates that you use only once.
Batting:The batting you choose is entirely a personal preference. It is used as a filler between the pieced top or front of the quilt and the backing . The three layers are stitched together by hand or machine. My usual preference is a cotton, polyester blend, of a 80%, 20% ratio. Many kinds are available 100% cotton, 100% polyester, blends, silk, wool and others.
Freezer paper: Freezer paper* has a whole lot of uses for quilters. Don’t buy it right away, until you find that you need it. It is a heavy paper with a plastic coating on one side, that can pe pressed onto fabric with a hot iron. It sticks temporarily. It can be used to make templates for pieced and applique quilts, as well as other uses. The story goes that the freezer paper manufacturers had decided to take freezer paper off the market because of declining use. Some quilters began to use it for quilt making. They found it so useful that they contacted the manufacturers and asked them to continue to make it. It has once again become a widely used product, mostly with quilters and other crafters.
Quilting hoops and frames: Layered quilts need to be stretched on a hoop or frame to be quilted. Choose either a hoop or frame to quilt your quilt. Some people prefer to lap quilt, so they choose a hoop that is usually about 14" to 18" diameter and can be used by one person to quilt on her lap. I use a 14" round heavy wood hoop with a bungee cord around it to hold the quilt. A floor frame can be as large as 6 or to 10 feet square or rectangle and can be used by many quilters at a time. Some frames can be folded or rolled up for storage.
I know there are other tools that you will choose when you start out. There are probably others that I haven’t thought to include. But in the beginning, stay simple, until you decide to make quilting an art that you will stick with. Quilting and ME are great partners. Go with the idea that you can combine the two and make some really wonderful heirlooms. I’d like to think that the quilts that I have made will be loved for years to come. I’d like to think that my quilts will cover the dreams of people I love today and people who will remember me as the one who lovingly made the stitches they sleep and cuddle under.
Definitions according to LaRue:
"quilty"*, slang for anything quilt related.
"cheater quilt"*, is a preprinted quilt pattern that can be quilted or just used as fabric.
"quilt police"* Expert quilters who are standing by to snap you on the head for doing something the wrong way...there are NO Quilt Police.
"square-up"* Using a square ruler to make the block square on all sides and corners before assembling entire quilt
"sampler quilts"* Quilts made with different block. They are often traditional blocks showing a variety of techniques.
"freezer paper"*, a heavy paper with a plastic coating that can pe pressed onto fabric with a hot iron